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Thousand Islands Inn to reopen with piano bar, new style, new owners

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CLAYTON — During his first job as a newspaper carrier for the Watertown Daily Times, Bradford J. Minnick said, he delivered papers to the Thousand Islands Inn. Now, after traveling the world as a diplomat, he and his partner, Jaime H. Weinberg, are excited to reopen the inn as a boutique hotel and piano bar.

“We’re going to do as much as we can till June, when we’ll open up to the public,” he said. Mr. Minnick is a 1974 graduate of Thousand Islands Central School and Mr. Weinberg is originally from Alexandria, Va.

Mr. Minnick and Mr. Weinberg purchased the property from Allen S. Benas on Dec. 31 for $395,000. Mr. Benas said he had been passively trying to sell the business over his 40-year ownership, but in the last decade, as he and his wife planned to retire in Florida, he began actively trying to sell the three-story hotel.

“I had it listed for much higher,” Mr. Benas said. “But it was time to sell and we wanted to get down to Florida.”

Right now, the two have started “TLC” upgrades, cleaning out the rooms and getting the business ready to open for the summer season.

In the long run, Mr. Minnick said, they plan to update the restaurant, the bar and the 13 hotel rooms.

“There are a lot of structural things we would like to work on,” Mr. Minnick said. “We want to keep the historical integrity, but we want to make it more modern.”

Mr. Minnick said they plan to upgrade electrical and lighting in the rooms. He said the older building wasn’t built with the amount of outlets that today’s guests demand.

“We also anticipate putting on a porch as it originally had in the 1800s,” Mr. Minnick said.

Not only is the inn where the Thousand Islands salad dressing first was served, it has played host to celebrities such as polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, famed aviator Wiley Post, Maxine Andrews of the Andrews Sisters; Country and Western stars Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, baseball great Boog Powell and professional anglers Larry Nixon and Roland Martin. Mr. Mennick said he and Mr. Weinberg hope to help the hotel continue to be a glamorous destination for visitors.

Since acquiring the property in December, Mr. Minnick said, they’ve found a lot of treasures hidden away over the building’s life span.

“It’s been a wonderful trip through history,” Mr. Minnick said. “We’ve found old fishing lures and poles, plates, dishes, a map of St. Lawrence County from the 1800s and in some rooms three layers of carpet. It’s a labor of love and this place has so much potential.”

The hotel is in the Clayton historic district, next to the Opera House and across the street from the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel.

“The rising tide lifts all boats,” Mr. Minnick said. “The Clayton high-rise will bring in a lot of business and the people who come won’t just spend all their time in the hotel.”

During the summer, the bar will host a piano player who will take audience requests for songs and encourage guests to sing along.

“We have several pianists to work with, and with the Opera House next door, we hope people will want to come over after a show and listen to great music,” Mr. Minnick said.

Because of the construction of the new high-rise hotel, he said he felt it was the perfect time to purchase the inn and a perfect opportunity to be part of the growing business community in Clayton.

“There is going to be a lot of competition, but we bring a certain amount of personality to this place,” Mr. Minnick said.

He said it is because of the Clayton community’s investment in him during high school — his first international trip to Sweden was sponsored by community generosity — that he wants to give back.

“They raised funds for me to go to this place in Sweden that looked a lot like Clayton but with different flags,” Mr. Minnick said. “When I got back, I was invited to speak at a lot of different community groups like the Rotary Clubs and people who had sponsored my trip. I figured I was pretty good at public speaking.”

He said he later went on trips to Beijing and served as a member of the Public Diplomacy Council and worked all around the world.

Opening the piano bar and hotel is his way to thank the community for helping him with his future when he was young, he said.

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